Welcome to our service of worship for Sunday 21st November. This week we come to the end of what is the church’s calendar for the year. On this day we reflect upon what it means to call Christ King, before moving on next week to begin the countdown to Christmas. It is our hope and prayer that, as we worship, we will be drawn closer to each other and to our Lord.
Call to worship (Psalm 24: 9-10)
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.
Let us worship God.
HYMN 129 The Lord is King! Lift up thy voice
Please click on the link to play the hymn
Let us pray.
Lift up your heads,
be lifted up, O people of God,
and worship the King of glory.
We lift our hearts in worship,
our eternal God and King.
There is none like you,
strong to save
and merciful to all who seek you.
We lift our hearts in worship,
for by your grace you have set us free
You have lifted us up,
setting our feet upon the path
of light and truth.
We lift our hearts in worship,
for you alone have redeemed us.
You have made us in your image
and called us by name.
You alone are our God and King.
We lift our hearts in worship.
You are robed in majesty
and girded with strength.
You established the world,
and to you we cry ‘Hallelujah!’
Lord Jesus Christ, our Faithful Witness,
the Firstborn of the dead,
and ruler of all:
You forgive the wrongs of your children,
and so we praise Your name.
In love and mercy you cleanse us from our sins
and making us a kingdom of priests
serving God our maker
and bringing his kingdom to bear.
To You be glory and dominion forever and ever.Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
John 18: 33-37
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’
HYMN 459 Crown him with many crowns
(from Songs of Praise – Royal Albert Hall)
This is the last Sunday of the Church’s year. Next week sees us begin the period known as Advent, when we begin the countdown to Christmas. This week, though, we traditionally look upon as the feast of Christ the King. It is a time to consider whom we follow, and how.
If you read carefully through the Gospel of John you will note that Jesus has the practice of not always answering questions the way that others would like. We see that clearly in today’s reading. Pilate, as both judge and jury, wishes simply to know if Jesus had been guilty of sedition. Was he guilty of leading or inspiring a revolt against their lord and master, the emperor? If Jesus could be shown to be guilty then the outcome was simple, he would be executed in the most inhumane way they could think of. Crucifixion was usually not a quick death but a slow and lingering one that could stretch over a period of three days or so. Jesus, however, does not approach Pilate’s question directly. In a sense he dances around it both probing and exploring what it means to be king. He stretches Pilate’s simple question into a much deeper conversation over what it means to be a ruler, and what it means to be a kingdom. It is almost as if Jesus is not interested in the charges or question presented to him. None of this was what Pilate wanted to hear.
Consciously or not, we approach the question of rule at least once each year in this congregation; this occurs when we sing the national anthem. Often, like the Lord’s Prayer, it is recited without a second thought to the words or their meaning. This is compounded with the anthem in that we seldom sing beyond the first verse. Other verses effectively remind the monarch under whose grace they reign; another reminds us of our tendency, as Scots, to be a bit rebellious; a later, final, verse is a universal call to brotherhood. But do we ever pause to think what it means to call God’s blessing down upon a monarch, or to pledge allegiance to that person? Do not worry, I am not about to preach sedition. What I am asking is that we think about the consequence of uttering such words and phrases as we do.
As members of the Reformed tradition we are often reminded that salvation is by ‘faith alone’. Yet the word translated as ‘faith’ also has another common meaning; it can mean ‘allegiance’. Sometimes ‘faith’ is the only way the word may be rightly translated, however sometimes ‘allegiance’ also fits. Think about it for a moment … salvation by allegiance alone! Like the early church, the Church of Scotland is broad in its understanding and application of the gospel. Read the letters of the New Testament and you will see a wide range of beliefs and practices. This leads to a divergence of understandings of in what it is we truly have faith. But what if we consider the matter as one of allegiance. What if it is our allegiance to Christ that matters? What if it is his will and commands that matter most? Would these change our lives and our discipleship? Would it change our world for the better?
Loyalty and allegiance seem to matter more in the world these days than they did even a few years ago. This is, in part, an element of the search for identity and meaning. As Christians we have an identity, something beyond skin colour, language, or culture. That identity is bound up in our allegiance to Christ Jesus as our Lord, our King. If the Church could, for a moment, step back from vague notions of faith and instead turn to focus on allegiance what a difference it could make. Not only could we embrace diversity in the church more readily, but the effect on us and the world would be transformative. If our focus was upon allegiance, then matters of obedience would have to be considered more important than is often the case. We would have to take seriously the commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. We would have to be people that worked for justice for all people, for justice is of God. This is what the early church did and look at how it impacted upon its world; look at the growth and dynamism that accompanied it.
The Kingdom of God or of Jesus is not one in the human sense. It is not bound up in manmade geographical borders or other ideas. It is a kingdom of a people who, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, ‘listens to my voice’. This means that membership of Christ’s Kingdom has something to do with listening to Jesus’ voice and obeying it. It is about allegiance. Pilate had the privilege of hearing Jesus, the opportunity of listening to him, and thus also of belonging to the truth. He chose not to listen. Through the voice of Jesus in Scripture we may hear regularly the words of Jesus. Unlike Pilate will we also listen, and turn and pledge our allegiance to Him? Will we choose to belong to the truth, and proclaim Jesus as our King?
HYMN 448 Lord, the light of Your love is shining
(from Songs of Praise – Royal Albert Hall 2012)
Let us pray.
we pray that the peace and power of your Kingdom would come upon us.
We pray for the Church.
May she be inspired to show her allegiance to you,
working for your Kingdom to come.
May both leaders and people be faithful
to the words of Christ, our King.
We pray for the world.
We see the angers and frustrations that cause so much pain;
we see peoples and lands suffering and bereft of meaning.
May our earthly leaders seek wisdom from you,
and so lead the peoples in ways of peace.
We pray for the betrayed,
all those who have been abused or abandoned
by those they trusted.
We think of those women victims of violence from loved ones;
we think of victims of terrorism, betrayed by those they called friend or neighbour.
We pray for the weak,
those victims of society or evil.
We remember the falsely accused.
and those who are alone in our world.
We pray for those who face up to corruption in high places.
We pray for ourselves.
In our times of work or rest,
enable us to live as servants of the true King.
may his grace rule in our lives
blessing those around us.
We pray for the saints,
those who have gone on before us
into your eternal kingdom.
We give thanks for their witness
and rejoice that they stand in the presence of the King.
All these things we pray in the name of Christ,
the eternal King of glory.
HYMN 449 Rejoice! the Lord is king
(Emu Music, Charles Wesley, arrangement © 2019 Philip Percival & Alanna Glover, CCLI Song No: 7125867}
May the love of the King of angels enfold you;
the peace of his kingdom surround you;
the joy of his presence enliven you.
And may the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
be with you all,
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org